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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Are These the Faces of Poverty?

Found this on NPR:

When "Black" Suggests "Poverty"

Taking a closer look at last night's CNN/CBC Democratic debate, it wasn't the back-and-forth between Clinton and Obama that made a lasting impression on me, it was this Q&A:

CNN reporter Suzanne Malveaux asked of Sen. John Edwards:

"I've spoken with a lot of African American voters in South Carolina this week, and a lot of them say that electing a black president, that this would change the way whites see African Americans and the way African Americans see themselves. Do you think that this is a valid consideration for voters in determining who's president?"

Edwards responded and added this:

"Ending poverty is the cause, the single most important cause in my life. ... I think it is a huge moral issue facing the United States of America, and it is an enormous issue facing the African American community. If you're black, you're much more likely to be poor, you're much less likely to have health care coverage. That community is hurt worse by poverty than any community in America. And it's our responsibility, not just for the African American community, but for America, as a nation, to take on this moral challenge, to try as best we can to walk in the shadow of Dr. King and try to make certain that we take this cause on, and I intend to do it."

To which, Sen. Clinton said:

"I think that what we want to do is have a little reality check here, because how is it best to end poverty? We know we've got to maintain programs that are there to help people in need, but look at what's happened over the space of the last seven years. The average African American family has lost $2,600 in income."

And Obama followed:

"As I said, I started my career after college working in low-income neighborhoods, working in public housing projects, talking to children who would tell me that, when I asked them, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" They say, "I want to be a doctor," or, "I want to be a lawyer," had the same aspirations as every other child, but they were three, four grade levels behind. And nobody had told them that the likelihood of them accomplishing their goals were each year diminished because we weren't putting the money in to make sure that they could actually achieve it."

Click here to read the full quotes in context, but what I want to pull from here is the jump from a question about the political interests of African Americans ... to addressing the issue of poverty.

While much of what the candidates said is true, it's worth noting that most blacks are middle class. Their answers could have easily had more to do with spurring entrepreneurship and community wealth-building.

It raises the question: what's the best way to address social ills without perpetuating stereotypes and ascribing more problems to black identity?

Related: Obama's Bid Turns Focus On Class Split Among Blacks

The candidates (and people in general) need to be more careful with the assertions that they make of Black people.

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